The Last Night of the World

"What would you do if you knew this was the last night of the world?"

"What would I do; you mean, seriously?"

"Yes, seriously."

"I don't know — I hadn't thought. She turned the handle of the silver coffeepot toward him and placed the two cups in their saucers.

He poured some coffee. In the background, the two small girls were playing blocks on the parlor rug in the light of the green hurricane lamps. There was an easy, clean aroma of brewed coffee in the evening air.

"Well, better start thinking about it," he said.

"You don't mean it?" said his wife.

He nodded.

"A war?"

He shook his head.

"Not the hydrogen or atom bomb?"

"No."

"Or germ warfare?"

"None of those at all," he said, stirring his coffee slowly and staring into its black depths. "But just the closing of a book, let's say."

"I don't think I understand."

"No, nor do I really. It's jut a feeling; sometimes it frightens me, sometimes I'm not frightened at all — but peaceful." He glanced in at the girls and their yellow hair shining in the bright lamplight, and lowered his voice. "I didn't say anything to you. It first happened about four nights ago."

"What?"

"A dream I had. I dreamt that it was all going to be over and a voice said it was; not any kind of voice I can remember, but a voice anyway, and it said things would stop here on Earth. I didn't think too much about it when I awoke the next morning, but then I went to work and the feeling was with me all day. I caught Stan Willis looking out the window in the middle of the afternoon and I said, 'Penny for your thoughts, Stan,' and he said, 'I had a dream last night,' and before he even told me the dream, I knew what it was. I could have told him, but he told me and I listened to him."

"It was the same dream?"

"Yes. I told Stan I had dreamed it, too. He didn't seem surprised. He relaxed, in fact. Then we started walking through offices, for the hell of it. It wasn't planned. We didn't say, let's walk around. We just walked on our own, and everywhere we saw people looking at their desks or their hands or out the windows and not seeing what was in front of their eyes. I talked to a few of them; so did Stan."

"And all of them had dreamed?"

"All of them. The same dream, with no difference."

"Do you believe in the dream?"

"Yes. I've never been more certain."

"And when will it stop? The world, I mean."

"Sometime during the night for us, and then, as the night goes on around the world, those advancing portions will go, too. It'll take twenty-four hours for it all to go."

They sat awhile not touching their coffee. Then they lifted it slowly and drank, looking at each other.

"Do we deserve this?" she said.

"It's not a matter of deserving, it's just that things didn't work out. I notice you didn't even argue about this. Why not?"

"I guess I have a reason," she said.

"The same reason everyone at the office had?"

She nodded. "I didn't want to say anything. It happened last night. And the women on the block are talking about it, just among themselves." She picked up the evening paper and held it toward him. "There's nothing in the news about it."

"No, everyone knows, so what's the need?" He took the paper and sat back in his chair, looking at the girls and then at her. "Are you afraid?"

"No. Not even for the children. I always thought I would be frightened to death, but I'm not."

"Where's that spirit of self-preservation the scientists talk about so much?"

"I don't know. You don't get too excited when you feel things are logical. This is logical. Nothing else but this could have happened from the way we've lived."

"We haven't been too bad, have we?"

"No, nor enormously good. I suppose that's the trouble. We haven't been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things."

The girls were laughing in the parlor as they waved their hands and tumbled down their house of blocks.

"I always imagined people would be screaming in the streets at a time like this."

"I guess not. You don't scream about the real thing."

"Do you know, I won't miss anything but you and the girls. I never liked cities or autos or factories or my work or anything except you three. I won't miss a thing except my family and perhaps the change in the weather and a glass of cool water when the weather's hot, or the luxury of sleeping. Just little things, really. How can we sit here and talk this way?"

"Because there's nothing else to do."

"That's it, of co